Despite the bitter wind and icy temperatures, I ventured out in the garden on Saturday afternoon to do battle with my perennial borders. The chilly Northern winds of the past week had wreaked havoc with my overwintering grasses: a statuesque Miscanthus zebrinus, burnished Miscanthus Sioux, the smaller, but no less fabulous Miscanthus yakushima and a stately Calamagrostis Karl Foerster. I love the way they stand tall through the worst of the winter weather and shimmer enticingly in the frost and snow (when we get any!), but just lately I’ve noticed the dry stems have been torn asunder by the wind and are blowing round the garden. It’s also the ideal time to cut them back while it’s still so cold, before the new shoots start to form for this year’s growth.
Helen Yemm, garden columnist for the Daily Telegraph and local gardening guru (a plotholder at our local allotments no less!), recommends tying up the grass before you start, to stop the stems blowing around as you work, but I find it easy enough to take handfuls at a time and snip about 6-9” from the base with my secateurs. I suppose with larger clumps and the tying-up method, you could go in with shears, or even a hedge-trimmer, but for my small garden, even with established clumps (the Miscanthus in particular are easily 2-3’ in diameter!), I find the secateurs method quite manageable. The trick then is getting the wheelbarrow to the compost pile before the wind blows it all around the garden (or Poppy the dog buries her ball at the bottom of the barrow, then uproots the lot looking for it….).
A bit of weeding underneath (the dreaded woodrush (Luzula) that’s taken up residence in my mixed hedge (and is impossible to get rid of!) and the equally annoying Geum urbanum) and I felt I’d done a good couple of hours’ work! Certainly too cold to stay outside for much longer…
The grasses in their autumn glory…
Definitely the kind of day for a bowl of homemade soup when you come back indoors, and one of my favourites is Carrot and Coriander, again originally based on my much-loved Covent Garden Soup recipe book, but adapted over the years. Not my own carrots, unfortunately – my heavy clay soil isn’t ideal for carrots, especially the main crop. I can usually manage summer pickings, enough for salads and steamed veg, but the slugs and carrot root fly (despite the fleece protection) go to town if I leave them in the ground too long.
Carrot and Coriander Soup
2 medium onions, chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
1lb carrots, diced
1 tspn crushed coriander seeds
1 ¾ pts homemade chicken (or vegetable) stock
Freshly grated nutmeg
¼ pt milk (or single cream) – optional
1 tbspn fresh coriander, chopped
Salt and pepper
Crème fraîche and more fresh coriander to garnish
Melt the butter and gently cook onions, garlic and celery until soft – about 10 minutes. Meanwhile chop the carrots, then add with the crushed coriander seeds and cook for a further 5-10 minutes. Add the stock, nutmeg and seasoning, bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 20-30 mins or until the vegetables are tender. Leave to cool, then whizz in a blender until smooth. Return to a clean pan, stir in the chopped coriander (don’t add before you blend, or your beautiful orange soup will turn a murky brown colour…) and add milk (or cream if feeling luxurious!) depending on the consistency of the soup. I don’t like this soup too thin, but much depends on personal preference.
Garnish with more coriander and a swirl of crème fraîche if you’re feeling posh! Otherwise enjoy as it is, served with fresh bread or sourdough toast.
This should make enough for 6 generous helpings – and it freezes beautifully, of course.
The perfect working lunch…
P.S. Today, by contrast, has been a crisp and sunny winter’s day, much better for the soul! I was able to get on with some digging down at the allotment to make a new bed and transfer in one of my old gooseberry plants (Pax – a deep red dessert variety that is spine-free and mildew-resistant, also very late, so the perfect follow-on plant to my stalwart Invictas). I’m nearly at the stage where I can wave goodbye to the top end of my plot and concentrate on the raised beds and orchard – just the last of the rhubarb to move now, as soon as it starts to show…
My favourite hellebore ‘Party Frock’ – a real harbinger of spring today